A total of 21 lions have died in western India's Gir National Park over the last three weeks, amid fears that some of the cats succumbed to a deadly virus.
The deaths at the park in the western state of Gujarat have alarmed authorities, who have deployed 500 forest staff to check on the remaining lions in the sanctuary.
Infighting and infections were the main causes for the deaths, park conservator Dushyant Vasavada said Tuesday.
‘Of the eight deaths in the past week or so, four lions had died of viral infection, while others died due to protozoa infection, that is spread by ticks,’ Vasavada said. Last week, officials reported 13 deaths.
Vasavada rejected local media reports that said canine distemper virus (CDV) - a lethal virus that spreads from dogs in the wild - was confirmed in the deaths of the lions.
The virus had wiped out nearly 1,000 lions from Tanzania's Serengeti Reserve in 1994.
‘Nothing is confirmed yet, the tests are still on. We hope it is not CDV. We are taking all preventive measures importing multiple vaccines,’ he said, adding the survey found that the deaths were localized to one small pocket of the park.
Five lions were still under treatment while 31 more were moved to another animal care centre and kept under isolation.
The Gir sanctuary was established to protect Asiatic lions from extinction and has seen a steady increase in population, from an all-time low of 20 in 1913 to 523 during a 2015 census.
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